The city of Bagdad is preparing to host a barbeque/pep rally Friday night for its high school football and Pop Warner teams.
The Bagdad community wouldn’t mind if the party continues Saturday night.
That’s because one of the state’s oldest high schools, Bagdad High, is one victory away from winning the school’s first official football title. Bagdad’s 8-man opponent in Saturday’s 6 p.m. D-VI final at Shadow Mountain High is Mogollon.
Bagdad has benefited from its area Pop Warner teams. Bagdad coach Dalton Mills credited the Pop Warner teams for helping his players prepare for high school and reaching this year’s state title game.
Pop Warner football in Bagdad started a couple of seasons ago, helping Bagdad reach the sate semifinals three times in the past four seasons.
One of Bagdad’s assistant coaches, Juan Juaregui, the father of Bagdad’s quarterback, Tony, is a Pop Warner coach and has coached a handful of Bagdad’s players at the Pop Warner level.
“There’s a lot of excitement around here,” Mills said. “This is usually a baseball town.”
—Based on its stats on Maxpreps, there isn’t a player that really stands out for Bagdad.
That’s because Bagdad (9-0) shares the wealth. It has about 4-5 weapons who are each capable of taking over a game.
Bagdad’s Kody Low and Mogollon’s Dallyn Despain, arguably the two best athletes in D-VI this year, will play their final game on Saturday. Low (WR/DE) is a four-year starter and will sometimes run the Wildcat formation for Bagdad.
The quick as a cat Casey Jeans is coming off a 220-rushing yards performance in the semifinals for Bagdad and forms an ideal 1-2 rushing punch with short yardage bruiser Justin Pacheco.
Tony, a first-year quarterback, is super intelligent, Mills said, and is capable of adjusting on the fly.
—-But in the trenches is where Bagdad has really had an offensive advantage this year, Mills said.
“We have a big and athletic line,” Mills said. “Our center/nose guard Clay Low is 265, 6-3.”
—-Three of Bagdad’s four coaches graduated from Bagdad, including Mills (1991), and played for former Bagdad coach Carl Redenour.
Defensive coordinator Ronnie Williams, line coach Mike Love and running backs/linebackers coach Juarague also attended Bagdad.
—-The Arizona Interscholastic Association first organized an 8-man championship game in 1959. Bagdad will be making just its second appearance in a final on Saturday.
The first one was in 2000. It’s not considered a state title, but Bagdad historians say that the school finished with the best 8-man record in 1952, winning a mythical title that year, Mills said.
—-Bagdad beat Mogollon 25-24 in last year’s state quarterfinals. It was the first time Bagdad had won at Mogollon in the playoffs.
The temperature during that playoff game last year was 18 degrees.
Mogollon (10-1) didn’t crumble this season despite dealing with its share of injuries, preseason discipline issues and players’ moving.
“We fell apart in a way, but I was just talking to the kids that we overcame a lot adversity this season,” Mogollon coach Tim Slade said. “The kids are resilient.
“I am super proud of them. I’ve been telling our administration that I’m asking my kids for one more week. We’ve gotten so much out of these kids. We’ve been undersized in almost every game. But we are not just happy to be in the final.”
Mogollon’s two stars, Despain and Baylend Stephens, were injured at some point during the season.
Despain injured an ankle early in the year, but that didn’t keep D-VI’s best running back out for long. Stephens (10.9 tackles per game) hasn’t played in the past two weeks because of a hand injury.
But Mogollon might get Stephens, a 6-5, 225-pound sophomore, back this week, Slade said.
Injuries forced Slade to move one of his defensive cogs, McKay Turley, from linebacker to defensive end. McKay will continue playing each position on Saturday.
Other players have stepped up for Mogollon this season as well, including Joe Gaylor, who has nine interceptions, including three against Pima in the playoffs.
Stopping the fast and strong Despain (2,370 rushing yards, 37 TD) is obviously the No. 1 priority for Bagdad. Bagdad also needs to know where Despain is on defense (10.2 tackles per game) as well.
That’s why it’s important to get other players, including Jaden Willis (859 rushing yards), involved to keep the focus off Despain, Slade said.
—-Second-year quarterback Jimmy Adams, a senior, had his best game last week, with 155 passing yards, a couple of touchdowns and ran the ball well, Slade said.
—-This is Slade’s 13th year with Mogollon. He’s won a state title serving as an assistant coach at the school, but he’s in search of his first outright title as a head coach.
Mogollon has won two titles outright and tied for another in six 8-man state title appearances.